, which can be translated literally from Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 as "death from overwork", is occupational sudden death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

. Although this category has a significant count, Japan is one of the few countries that reports it in the statistics as a separate category. The major medical causes of karōshi deaths are heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

 and stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 due to stress.

The first case of karōshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29-year-old male worker in the shipping department of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

's largest newspaper company. It was not until the later part of the 1980s, during the Bubble Economy
Japanese asset price bubble
The was an economic bubble in Japan from 1986 to 1991, in which real estate and stock prices were greatly inflated. The bubble's collapse lasted for more than a decade with stock prices initially bottoming in 2003, although they would descend even further amidst the global crisis in 2008. The...

, however, when several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 without any previous sign of illness
Illness is a state of poor health. Illness is sometimes considered another word for disease. Others maintain that fine distinctions exist...

, that the media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

 began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon. This new phenomenon was quickly labeled karōshi and was immediately seen as a new and serious menace for people in the work force
Labor force
In economics, a labor force or labour force is a region's combined civilian workforce, including both the employed and unemployed.Normally, the labor force of a country consists of everyone of working age In economics, a labor force or labour force is a region's combined civilian workforce,...

. In 1987, as public
In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individuals, and the public is the totality of such groupings. This is a different concept to the sociological concept of the Öffentlichkeit or public sphere. The concept of a public has also been defined in political science,...

 concern increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labour began to publish statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 on karōshi.

Japan's rise from the devastation of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 to economic
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 prominence in the post-war
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 decades has been regarded as the trigger for what has been called a new epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

. It was recognized that employees cannot work for twelve or more hours a day, six or seven days a week
A week is a time unit equal to seven days.The English word week continues an Old English wice, ultimately from a Common Germanic , from a root "turn, move, change"...

, year after year, without suffering physically as well as mentally. A recent measurement found that a Japanese worker has approximately two hours overtime a day on average. It is common for the overtime to go unpaid.

Effects on society

Many will be prepared to work unpaid overtime to an extreme extent particularly as their young co-workers will often quit when a job is too strenuous. In some cases it has been proven that firms were aware of the poor health of an employee.

Meanwhile, death-by-overwork lawsuit
A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

s have been on the rise in Japan, with the deceased person's relatives demanding compensation
In law, damages is an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury; grammatically, it is a singular noun, not plural.- Compensatory damages :...

 payments. However, before compensation can be awarded, the labour inspection office must acknowledge that the death was work-related. As this may take many years in detailed and time-consuming judicial hearings, many do not demand payment.

Government reaction

Japanese courts have awarded damages to relatives in cases of work overload induced stress or depression ending with the suicide of the employee when the Labour Standards Inspection Office rejected the plea for compensation. The linked article also mentions the practice of "voluntary" undocumented as leading to karōshi incidents.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Japan)
The ' is a cabinet level ministry of the Japanese government. It is commonly known as Kōrō-shō in Japan. This ministry provides regulations on maximum residue limits for agricultural chemicals in foods, basic food and drug regulations, standards for foods, food additives, etc.It was formed with...

 published relevant statistics in 2007: 189 workers died, many from strokes or heart attacks, and about 208 more fell severely ill from overwork in the year to March, the highest figure on record and up 17.6% from the previous year. Another 921 workers contended they became mentally ill due to overwork, with 306 cases given compensation, according to the ministry data released on Wednesday. Mentally troubled workers killed themselves or attempted to do so in 201 cases.

The Japanese government is now beginning to recognize the extent of responsibility that companies bear in overworking employees. On 29 April 2008, a company was ordered to pay ¥200 million to a man overworked until he fell into a coma. Legislation is currently in promulgation to prevent or at least reduce the cases and severity of karōshi. It is expected that such moves may also include limits on overtime work as well as the introduction of required medical examination before employers may clear employees to perform overtime work which exceeds a certain number of working hours.

Corporate response

A number of companies have been making an effort to find a better work-life balance for their employees. Toyota, for example, now generally limits overtime to 360 hours a year (an average of 30 hours monthly), and at some offices issues public address announcements every hour after 7 p.m. pointing out the importance of rest and urging workers to go home. Nissan offers telecommuting
Telecommuting or telework is a work arrangement in which employees enjoy flexibility in working location and hours. In other words, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links...

 for office workers to make it easier to care for children or elderly parents. Dozens of large corporations have also implemented "no overtime days", which require employees to leave the office promptly at 5:30 p.m. However, since their workload is too high, few workers can actually take advantage of this, opting to stay in the office with the lights off or simply taking their work home (called furoshiki or "cloaked overtime").

In 2007, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust & Banking
Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation
is the trust banking arm of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, a Japanese financial services group which is the largest in the world measured by assets...

, a division of Japan's largest banking group, started to allow employees to go home up to three hours early to care for children or elderly relatives. As of January 5, 2009, just 34 of the company's 7,000 employees have signed up for the plan.

Media attention

The French-German TV Channel Arte
Arte is a Franco-German TV network. It is a European culture channel and aims to promote quality programming especially in areas of culture and the arts...

 showed a documentary called "Alt in Japan" (Old in Japan) on 6 November 2006 dealing with old age workers in Japan. In 2008, karōshi again made headlines: a death back in 2006 of a key Toyota
Toyota Motor Corporation
, , , commonly known simply as Toyota and abbreviated as TMC, is a multinational automaker headquartered in Toyota, Aichi, Japan. In 2010, Toyota Motor Corporation employed 317,734 people worldwide, and was the world's largest automobile manufacturer by production.The company was founded by...

 engineer who averaged over 80 hours overtime each month was ruled as a result of overwork. His family was awarded benefits after his case was reviewed.

A simple multi-platform arcade game called Karoshi
Karoshi (game)
Karoshi is an independent video game series designed by Jesse Venbrux, and developed in Game Maker. Various iterations of the series have been released over time, with the first game being released in March 2008 for Microsoft Windows, and the latest being released in February 2011...

 (2008) developed by Jesse Venbrux and published by YoYo Games helped in creating an awareness for Karoshi in 2008. This game was a series of puzzle platformer games in which the goal is to die. The game still lives on in as a newer version Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman (2008) and is succeeded by Super Karoshi (2009). Some of these games have been ported to the Macintosh
The Macintosh , or Mac, is a series of several lines of personal computers designed, developed, and marketed by Apple Inc. The first Macintosh was introduced by Apple's then-chairman Steve Jobs on January 24, 1984; it was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a...

 by Vetra Games, while an iOS version titled Mr. Karoshi has been published to some mobile platforms by YoYo Games.

See also

  • Japanese work environment
    Japanese work environment
    Many both in and outside of Japan share an image of the Japanese work environment that is based on a lifetime-employment model used by large companies as well as a reputation of long work-hours and strong devotion to one's company...

  • Japanese management culture
    Japanese management culture
    The culture of Japanese management that is often portrayed in Western media is generally limited to Japan's large corporations. These flagships of the Japanese economy provide their workers with excellent salaries, secure employment, and working conditions. These companies and their employees are...

  • Power harassment
    Power harassment
    Power harassment is harassment or unwelcome attention of a political nature, often occurring in the environment of a workplace including hospitals, schools and universities. It includes a range of behavior from mild irritation and annoyances to serious abuses which can even involve forced activity...

  • Affluenza
    Affluenza, from affluence and influenza, is a term used by critics of capitalism and consumerism. Sources define it as follows:Proponents of the term consider that the prizing of endless increases in material wealth may lead to feelings of worthlessness and dissatisfaction rather than experiences...

  • Workaholic
    A workaholic is a person who is addicted to work.The term generally implies that the person enjoys their work; it can also imply that they simply feel compelled to do it...

  • Salaryman
    refers to someone whose income is salary based; particularly those working for corporations. Its frequent use by Japanese corporations, and its prevalence in Japanese manga and anime has gradually led to its acceptance in English-speaking countries as a noun for a Japanese white-collar...

  • Work-life balance
    Work-life balance
    Work–life balance is a broad concept including proper prioritizing between "work" on the one hand and "life" on the other. Related, though broader, terms include "lifestyle balance" and "life balance".-History:The work-leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid 1800s...

  • Suicide in Japan
    Suicide in Japan
    Suicide in Japan has become a significant problem nationally. Factors in suicide include unemployment , depression, and social pressures. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each...

  • Stress (biological)
  • Burnout (psychology)
    Burnout (psychology)
    Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Research indicates general practitioners have the highest proportion of burnout cases; according to a recent Dutch study in Psychological Reports, no less than 40% of these experienced high levels of...

  • The Toyota Way
    The Toyota Way
    The Toyota Way is a set of principles and behaviors that underlie the Toyota Motor Corporation's managerial approach and production system. Toyota first summed up its philosophy, values and manufacturing ideals in 2001, calling it “The Toyota Way 2001.” It consists of principles in two key areas:...

External links

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